Something Besides Her Own Fortitude and Segregation

July 30th marks the anniversary in 1818 in Thornton, Yorkshire of the birth of Emily Brontë, one of the most uniquely fearless, impassioned, enigmatic, and elusive poets and novelists of all time.

My novel Without the Veil Between, published in November 2017, focuses on Anne Bronte, but Emily is very present in it. Long after all the Brontë sisters had died, Charlotte’s friend Ellen Nussey wrote in Reminisces of Charlotte Brontë that “[Emily] and Anne were like twins – inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption.”

This closeness became more and more palpable as I progressed along the path of research and writing Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit.

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between

Emily was as essential to Anne as Anne was to Emily, whether she and Anne were together at Haworth, on an excursion to York, or physically apart like when Emily was at school in Brussels or Anne was working as a governess. They invigorated each other’s imagination, offered a sense of belonging, and balanced each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The ethereal essence of their connection was enough to overcome their growing apart when it came to the fantasy writing that had bonded them as children and adolescents.

Emily never stopped being an imaginative and liberating influence on dutiful, devout Anne, a constant and protective best friend who by example more than precept reminded her youngest sister to leave at least some of her spirit unfettered and even encouraged her to now and then step out of life’s responsibilities and live a little wildly.

O come with me, thus ran the song,
The moon is bright in Autumn’s sky,
And thou hast toiled and laboured long
With aching head and weary eye.

~ From O Come With Me by Emily Brontë

Anne’s influence on Emily was less obvious, easier to view Emily as more akin to nature and mystery than real people, floating untethered in her own self-created, solitary, independent, irreligious orbit. For me, all of that remains true while, at the same time, I feel Emily was deeply attached to Anne: that she admired her level-headedness and faith-filled, forgiving, moralistic, yielding yet strong nature, and valued her opinion, especially creatively.

Anne was a safe haven where Emily could rely on something besides her own fortitude and segregation. Anne was someone who understood her and had no wish to change her.

There was profound understanding and acceptance, truth and endurance in the love each had for the other.

What better way to enjoy time with Emily again than by resuming their habit of wandering west to meet only earth and sky. Their dogs, like themselves, with contrasting physiques and personalities, were intrinsically similar, especially in their need to frequently escape the stuffiness and limited amusement of being indoors.

“Flossy, come back,” Anne tried to command the impulsive spaniel off once more to chase sheep.

Emily had no trouble getting Keeper to lie down with a firm annunciation of his name while she pointed to the ground, although his whimpering implied he was still thinking about following Flossy’s example.

“Flossy. Bad boy, bad boy.”

“If you control your little Robinsons like you do that sassy mutt, I fear they won’t live long.”

As if it heard Emily’s prediction, a large ewe turned on Flossy, which brought the dog running back up the steep slope to his forgiving mistress.

On second thought, Anne tried to be tougher with a disciplinary tap on Flossy’s nose, then embraced him again. “Good boy.”

“Methinks he’s exactly what you always wanted … to be.” Emily was walking again, her direction declaring her destination. Their ascent to Top Withens would be delayed an hour or more, if Emily’s mood was more for reclining and swirling her hand in the water to stir up tadpoles.

When Ellen Nussey was with them, from crossing the slabbed bridge over Sladen Beck to climbing a rugged bank, navigating greasy stones and not minding a little dampening, there was always an echo of “watch your step”. With just Anne and the dogs following her lead, Emily didn’t have anything to say until they were at the best seat in view of the waterfall.

“No, you take it, Annie. I relinquish my throne to you.”

“Any of the other stones would do for me.”

“I insist on taking care of you.”

Anne didn’t mind Emily acting more like an older brother than Branwell ever did, or even a gallant lover, reminiscent of childish acting-out. In truth, she depended on it. In that small oasis of time, standing still where they were hidden from the world, their faithful companions conspiring to find something to occupy themselves, there was so much to enjoy and be grateful for. The sky was open in sight of heaven, high ground around and beyond them, the sun warming and a breeze cooling, the sound of water calming, and faintly fragrant moss glistening on the rocks with tiny white stars appearing between some of them.

Yet, more as if she was on a stormy ocean than in a quiet cove, panic overwhelmed Anne until she could hardly breathe.

Emily lightly rubbed Anne’s back and twisted up a strand of her hair loosened from its simple arrangement.

Anne cleared her throat, choking, Flossy pawing at her knees, Keeper barking.

“Go ahead and spit.” Emily helped her sister lean over to do so. “Other than me, there’s only the dogs, flies, tadpoles and, perhaps, God to witness it.”

Anne laughed and spoke hoarsely, “What would I do without you?”

“Better than I have done without you.”

From Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

When weary with the long day’s care,
And earthly change from pain to pain,
And lost and ready to despair,
Thy kind voice calls me back again:
Oh, my true friend! I am not lone,
While thou canst speak with such a tone!

~ From To Imagination by Emily Brontë

Continue reading

A Queen, a Nameless Girl, a Saint, an Angel

Elizabeth Siddall
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Today I share another excerpt from my work-in-progress novel portrait of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti, The Dove Upon Her Branch to mark the birthday – July 25, 1829 – of Elizabeth (Lizzie) Siddall, muse and wife of Christina’s brother and Pre-Raphaelite artist and poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Elizabeth Siddall
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

We found her hidden just behind those screens, that mirror gave back all her loveliness.*

     Miss Siddall was sitting slightly hunched, her arms reaching, resting between her knees, just below which her hands were clasped. Thick, mahogany hair was loosely ballooned on the nape of her neck, her chin stretched forward. Her waist, like most of the wicker chair she perched on, was lost in the bunching of her skirt, but even with her torso swallowed in billowing fabric and her shoulders slumped, there was no doubt she was tall.

         A queen in opal or in ruby dress, a nameless girl in freshest summer-greens, a saint, an angel — every canvas means the same one meaning, neither more or less.*

     Christina saw what Gabriel did. Although simply, somberly gowned in cotton and shawled in wool, this woman was fascinating, not as she was but meant to be.

     As Christina entered fully into her view, Miss Siddall stood and took a few sliding steps, her grey-blue eyes heavy-lidded, kind, and evasive. The hand she extended was warm in intention but cold in its flesh.

     Oh, she is not well. I must be kind to her. I must … not jump to conclusions about her. I must … not mind Gabe loving her.

     “Well, what do you think, Chrissy?” Gabriel blurted, immediately clarifying his question. “Of the Blackfriars crib? The way the rooms are built out over the river, windows on all sides, there’s plenty of light and from the balcony a magnificent view of the Tower, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey.”

     “If only there wasn’t such a stink from the river.”

     “I hardly notice anymore. During the day it’s busy and interesting. At night there’s the shimmering reflection of gas lamps on the bridge and wharf side.”

     “He notices. In words I won’t repeat.” William stood before an easel-supported canvas. “You’ve made good progress.”

     “Which one is it?” Christina moved to have a look. “Oh, a watercolor,” she tried not to sound disappointed.

     “Beatrice Meets Dante at a Marriage Feast.” William glanced between his brother and Miss Siddall.

     “And denies him her salutation,” Gabriel added, not brave enough to look at his “Sid” sitting and slumping again.

     William leaned into the painting to examine it more closely. “He’s captured you for eternity, Lizzie.”

     “Sitting for him certainly can seem an eternity.” Christina thought she saw Miss Siddall struggle not to smile.

     “You didn’t refuse, even though Mama said you could.” Gabriel knew he was right. “I remember you begging to pose again.”

     Christina did, too. “Well, your memory fails you. But one thing doesn’t.” She stepped back from the painting, looking around at all other evidence of her brother’s current obsession. “Having your muse constantly close.”

     “I don’t live here,” Lizzie finally spoke, softly but emphatically.

Copyright © 2021 by DM Dentom

*From the poem In the Artist’s Studio by Christina Rossetti

Elizabeth Siddall Sketching Dante Gabriel Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

In an Artist’s Studio

BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel — every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more or less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Christina Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Summer Days for Her

Illustration © by DM Denton

Summer
by Christina Georgina Rossetti

Winter is cold-hearted,
  Spring is yea and nay,
Autumn is a weathercock
  Blown every way:
Summer days for me
  When every leaf is on its tree;

When Robin’s not a beggar,
  And Jenny Wren’s a bride,
And larks hang singing, singing, singing,
  Over the wheat-fields wide,
  And anchored lilies ride,
And the pendulum spider
  Swings from side to side,

And blue-black beetles transact business,
  And gnats fly in a host,
And furry caterpillars hasten
  That no time be lost,
And moths grow fat and thrive,
And ladybirds arrive.

Before green apples blush,
  Before green nuts embrown,
Why, one day in the country
  Is worth a month in town;
  Is worth a day and a year
Of the dusty, musty, lag-last fashion
  That days drone elsewhere.

The Strawberry Thief by William Morris

Excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch

my work-in-progress novel portrait of Christina Rossetti

“No, not yet,” nine-year-old Maria had insisted. “We must wait.”

     “Why, Moony?” At six Christina had been compelled to question everything.

     “They shouldn’t be picked until ripe.”

     “How long?”

     “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe tomorrow. Or the day after.”

     “What if I ate one now?”

     “It wouldn’t be juicy … or sweet.”

     “How do you know?”

     “Nonno says they should be fully red … and soft to—”

     Maria’s firm grip thwarted the sudden plan of her little sister’s outstretched arm.

     The following day, on the same edge of their grandfather’s garden, Christina again burst into tears, this time denied the fruity feast wildly cascading down a hedgerow bank because slugs had invaded and wounded every finally ripened strawberry. There was no doubt it was those shell-less mollusks that had done the damage, a few still clinging to their victims.

     “We weren’t meant to have any. As Mama says, it never hurts to practice patience and self-restraint.”

     “Yes, it does.” Unlike Maria, Christina didn’t always look for sensible instruction in disappointment; certainly not at the time of the snail marauding. She decided she would never forgive her sister. Until Maria reminded her of the current bushes that grew upright and, therefore, less prone to slimy invasions. They could provide an alternative snack and, also, berries for a pie Aunt Eliza might be persuaded to make.

     Later they would smile about it, and cry, reminiscing bringing them the joy but also the pain of what was associated with Holmer Green holidays. While in its midst, childhood seemed endless, even for a girl as advanced and sensible as Maria. Traveling—the anticipation, adventure, amusement, and even exhaustion—what then seemed a world away from London was always something to look forward to. Maria and, eventually, William with her help, wrote down observations and impressions along the way: first stagecoach to Uxbridge, second to High Wycombe, local transport halfway to Amersham letting them off at the crossroads to Holmer Green. There it became apparent why they packed light, a long walk for short legs down a pretty lane into the village and another to “Nonno’s Cottage”, actually, a fair-sized house of less interest to the Polidoris’ grandchildren than its gardens, orchards, and copses, a pond and pig-sty, spaniel named Delta, and promises of days for wandering and discovery.

      Eventually, Christina would accept the grounds were small and quite ordinary, but while they belonged to her beloved Nonno and her imagination’s infancy she found them vast and full of uncommon experiences. Being able to step outside to pure air, bird song, a look up to the sky, the shifting of sun and shadows, a honeysuckle-scented breeze, even a soot-less splash of rain was magical for a city child. Her hands swinging free of the fear others had for her and her legs exercising their purpose of running to watch cows going out to pasture, frisky lambs defying their mothers, a shepherd lad waving as though he was waiting to see her again, was better than Christmas or her birthday or even Papa saying she was like the moon risen at the full.

     One day in the country was worth a month in town; certainly, Christina made the most of each one …

Copyright © 2021 by DM Denton

John William Waterhouse

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

A Feather in the Wind

“Please, take my hand,” Charlotte reached back to her sister, “or I’m afraid I’ll lose you like a feather in this wind.”

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Anne Brontë on May 28th, 1849 in Scarborough, North Yorkshire.

When I was writing my novel portrait of Anne, Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit (published in late 2017), I gave a lot of consideration to how I would handle her death at the age of 29. I knew at the outset, as moving as her deathbed scene with her last words “Take courage” to her only surviving sibling Charlotte was, that I wanted to end the novel in a way that showed Anne’s own unwavering courage, conscience, and compassion.

I had long been captivated by the report of Anne’s final and solitary ride across the sands of Scarborough, when she takes the reigns from the lad whose cart it was after he displays cruelty to the donkey pulling it.

Well into the writing of Without the Veil Between, I planned on Anne’s last days unfolding on its pages as they did for her, not as a lament but with gratefulness for her fine and subtle, purposeful and poetic life and legacy.

Here are two excerpts from that poignant event, including one of the interior illustration I did for the novel:

     The tide was out, the afternoon as fine as Scarborough ever offered, except to be warmer for swimming or wading in the sea. Anne stayed with her companions until they reached the beach. Charlotte and Ellen didn’t want to let her go, but were helpless against Anne’s will and legs strengthened by her need to get away from what held her back. The sands cushioned and eased her walking down to the donkey-pulled traps once a cause of pity for those who, because of age, disability or disease, had no other way to enjoy mobility up and down the South Bay shoreline.

     “I need some help,” Anne was loathed, but forced to say to the Heathcliff-like lad who chose her before she had a chance to employ another. She also unwillingly groaned as he lifted her onto the seat of his brightly painted little vehicle.

     “Yer all bones, Miss.” He was soon sitting beside her, surprising her again by laying a small woolen blanket over her lap. It was ragged and smelly, but instantly warmed her legs.

     He picked up the reins. Anne noticed he also had a whip in his left hand.

     “A gentle drive, please.” Anne couldn’t be sure of the lad’s compliance until he put the whip away. They began to move along at a pace that didn’t jolt her body or feel rushed.

     After about five minutes the whip was in his hand again. “This aint a funeral, ole girl.” He cracked it across the donkey’s hind quarters.

     The donkey stopped and kicked up her back legs. The lad lifted his arm to strike her a second time.

     “Stop it.” Anne grabbed the reins, the blanket sliding to her feet. If she couldn’t be his equal in physical strength then in will. “Get off. I’ll drive myself.”

     “’Tis my cart ’n my beast. Well, my da’s.”

     “You—he—might own one but not the other. Not God’s blessed creature.”

     “Well, suit yersen.” He jumped down. “It’ll cost ye mar.”

     “Why should it? To reward your cruelty?” Anne was almost in tears, leaning perilously forward to stroke the donkey where the boy had hit her. “Don’t you know it’s wicked to beat her? How would you like it? What if it was done to you?”

     His eyes told her it had been.

     Imagining his story, she struggled with continuing to scold him, but, also, realized an opportunity to make him more empathetic. “Animals live and feel as we do. You must remember that in how you treat them.”

     He mumbled his reasons for needing Millie to go faster, not so much now, out of season, but when the crowds came and he lost business to other boys who sold two even three rides to his one. Anne told him he might charge a little more for customers who wanted or even required a slower ride.

     “You might specialize,” she concluded, not sure she had talked him into anything the offer of an extra penny would have also achieved.

     “No, Anne, you can’t.” Ellen was running up from the water’s edge.

     “I can. And I will.” Immediately Anne was sorry she sounded so cross with her friend. “I’ll be fine.”

     “You won’t go far? Not out of sight.”

     “Once up and down.”

     “Tha’ll tak ’n hour or mar wi’ Millie,” the boy remarked.

     “If it does, there’ll be another coin for you. Oh, here comes Charlotte.” Anne barely tugged the reins and Millie lifted her head, braying as she began to walk.

     Anne didn’t feel guilty escaping. She had saved Millie and herself from the dominance of others for a while and thought driving the cart might show Charlotte the holiday was doing her good. In truth, Anne was moving away from the exhausting fight to survive towards surrendering to the precious time she had left. The curve of the bay was all hers. A beautiful sparkling headland lay ahead. The dip and lift of gulls and equally roguish clouds were almost indistinguishable as was the sea sounding near and far. She couldn’t help thinking about what came next, mulling over questions soon to be answered.

5. END Anne Driving Cart

Would pain or peace see her out? She might have an idea of what it was like to be short of breath, but not without it completely. As she watched Branwell and Emily take their last, it seemed the hardest thing they had ever done. Anne wanted dying to be welcome and welcoming, releasing and promising, like driving along the shore that afternoon and how she had tried to steer her life, her hands on the reins but faith guiding her progress.

Graying Millie might be slow but she was wise, going gingerly one way and then the other, staying above the wettest sand that could swallow enough of the carriage’s wheels to necessitate a cry for help. When they did stop, it was because Millie decided to. What some called a dumb animal Anne appreciated as a special creature of God’s making, who sensed Anne’s need to pause and reflect in some semblance of solitude.

 … She waved to Charlotte and Ellen waiting with the donkey boy.

 

 

My soul is awakened, my spirit is soaring and carried aloft on the wings of the breeze.
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

To regret the exchange of earthly pleasures for the joys of Heaven, is as if the groveling caterpillar should lament that it must one day quit the nibbled leaf to soar aloft and flutter through the air, roving at will from flower to flower, sipping sweet honey from their cups, or basking in their sunny petals. If these little creatures knew how great a change awaited them, no doubt they would regret it; but would not all such sorrow be misplaced?
~ Anne Brontë, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall

I longed to view that bliss divine,
Which eye hath never seen;
Like Moses, I would see his face
Without the veil between.
~ from Anne Brontë’s poem, A Happy Day in February

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

 

Poetry for Disappearing Into

March 21st is World Poetry Day.

Why would she write novels if only age, love, and death changed her? Poetry would be enough, a more natural and satisfying means of expression. It suited her pensiveness and piety, could be composed in isolated moments and reflect without analyzing. Poetry was a solitary art; even when read by others, its author could go unnoticed. It was perfect for disappearing into.
~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

That I might simply fancy there
One little flower — a primrose fair,
Just opening into sight;
As in the days of infancy,
An opening primrose seemed to me
A source of strange delight.

Sweet Memory! ever smile on me;
Nature’s chief beauties spring from thee,
Oh, still thy tribute bring!
Still make the golden crocus shine
Among the flowers the most divine,
The glory of the spring.

~ from the poem, Memory, by Anne Brontë

Copyright 2018 by DM Denton

Despite the care of my 92 year old bedridden mother taking up most of my time and energy, I continue with my work-in-progress: a novel portrait of the Victorian poet Christina Rossetti (1830-1894), The Dove Upon Her Branch.

Through barely leafy woods there were early spring flowers to accidentally come upon and search for. Birds broke the silence as if noting her intrusion. Squirrels didn’t need prompting to squawk less musically while flying as ably from tree to tree. The way opening onto a field offered the sweetness of lambs and moist grass, the earth was green, the sky was blue*, Christina saw and heard a skylark hang between the two*. Shelly had written a longer and loftier poem inspired by that spritely bird that singing still dost soar, and soaring ever singest **.

˜ excerpt from The Dove Upon Her Branch © 2021 by DM Denton

*from The Skylark by Christina Rossetti
**from To the Skylark by Percy Shelly

Here is Christina’s exquisite poem, Spring, describing the burgeoning of the season, but, also, its transience.

Frost-locked all the winter,
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
What shall make their sap ascend
That they may put forth shoots?

Copyright 2018 by DM Denton

Tips of tender green,
Leaf, or blade, or sheath;
Telling of the hidden life
That breaks forth underneath,
Life nursed in its grave by Death.

Blows the thaw-wind pleasantly,
Drips the soaking rain,
By fits looks down the waking sun:
Young grass springs on the plain;
Young leaves clothe early hedgerow trees;
Seeds, and roots, and stones of fruits,
Swollen with sap put forth their shoots;
Curled-headed ferns sprout in the lane;
Birds sing and pair again.

There is no time like Spring,

Copyright 2018 by DM Denton

When life’s alive in everything,
Before new nestlings sing,
Before cleft swallows speed their journey back
Along the trackless track –
God guides their wing,
He spreads their table that they nothing lack, –
Before the daisy grows a common flower
Before the sun has power
To scorch the world up in his noontide hour.

There is no time like Spring,

Copyright 2018 by DM Denton

Like Spring that passes by;
There is no life like Spring-life born to die, –
Piercing the sod,
Clothing the uncouth clod,
Hatched in the nest,
Fledged on the windy bough,
Strong on the wing:
There is no time like Spring that passes by,
Now newly born, and now
Hastening to die.
~ Christina Georgina Rossetti

I also hope to someday write about one of my favorite writers, early 20th century novelist and poet Mary Webb.

Copyright 2018 by DM Denton

There bloom immortal crocuses, beside
A live-rose hedge, and irises that grow
Along a far green inlet–circling wide
Anemone fields where none but stars may go.
The ardours of a thousand springs are there;
Through infinite deeps they quicken, bright and tender:
In that sequestered garden of the air …
~ from Winter Sunrise by Mary Webb

Welcome Spring!

May the snow subside, the sun brighten and the rain cleanse!

Copyright 2018 by DM Denton

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

The Cat and the Fiddle: In the Spirit of ‘Carnevale’ (for a second year despite Covid-19)

Italy cancels Venice Carnival 2021

VENICE, Italy — In another year, masks would be a sign of the gaiety in Venice, an accessory worn for games and parties as big crowds parade about to show off their frivolous, fanciful costumes, especially ones with decorative face coverings.

The Italian canal city’s Carnival festivities should have started Saturday (January 30 – February 16, 2021), but the covid-19 pandemic has made its annual appointment for more than two weeks of merry-making impossible. https://www.arkansasonline.com

So, celebrate virtually with this post (that I bring out every year anyway) including an excerpt from my novel A House Near Luccoli.

Today, February 16, 2021 is Martedí Grasso (Fat Tuesday) of Carnevalea final celebration before Ash Wednesday and Lent.

“Life will show you masks that are worth all your carnivals”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s the main day of Carnival … The most famous Carnivals in Italy are in Venice, Viareggio and Ivrea. Ivrea has the characteristic “Battle of Oranges” that finds its roots in medieval times. Italy is the birthplace of Carnival celebrations, having its origins in the ancient Roman festival of Saturnalia~ Wikipedia

There are a few theories on where the name Carnevale originated, the most popular put to verse by Lord Bryon:

This feast is named the Carnival, which being
Interpreted, implies “farewell to flesh”:
So call’d, because the name and thing agreeing,
Through Lent they live on fish, both salt and fresh. 

With roots in the Latin phrase carnem levare, “put away flesh” (carnem: flesh – levare: put away), the name evolved into carnelevare in Old Italian, then carnelevale, then carnevale, and, finally, carne, vale!—“Farewell, meat!”— appropriately referencing the Catholic tradition of giving up meat-eating from Ash Wednesday to Easter.

The Italian carnival that usually comes to mind has taken place in Venice since the eleventh century. In the seventeenth century these “Baroque celebrations” were “a way to save the prestigious image of Venice in the world” (Wikipedia), and it became even more popular and licentious in the 1700s until outlawed in 1797 when Venice was ruled by the King of Austria who also forbade the wearing of masks at any time. It reappeared during the nineteenth century, primarily for private celebrations and artistic expression. Carnevale di Venezia was revived in 1979 as an annual cultural event pronouncing Venice as even more magical and surreal with actors, acrobats, musicians, residents and visitors disguised in extravagant masks and costumes while enjoying themselves to the extreme.

In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, many Italian cities had a tradition of mask-wearing, enabling questionable behavior among those needing to protect their reputations, laws passed to restrict masquerading to certain times of the year like Carnevale. Besides serving as subterfuge for inquisitors, spies, high officials and nobility who couldn’t resist behaving badly, donning masks presented an opportunity for covert defiance by those on the lower levels of society.

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

Copyright by DM Denton 2015

For those of you who have read my historical fiction A House Near Luccoli, you will know that Martedi Grasso offers some pivotal scenes. Although the novel begins a few years after the 17th century composer Alessandro Stradella‘s arrival in Genoa, Carnevale was initially his reason for going (well, there might have been one or two other reasons …) and then he was encouraged to stay.

This week I go to Genoa, invited by some gentlemen of that city, where I will spend carnival …
~ from a letter Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel (one of his patrons), dated Turin, 16 December, 1677

I arrived in Genoa safe and sound already last week, where I was favored by many gentlemen who vied to have me in their homes … And from the moment of my arrival till now, I have always had to spend my time with ladies and gentlemen, all greatly interested in me, and actually they favour me with so many kindnesses and so much applause that I do not know what more I could desire, and in every way they show very great pleasure in my inadequate talent.
~ from a letter Stradella wrote to Polo Michiel, dated Genoa, 8 January 1678 

Read Chapter Twenty-three, one of the Carnevale Chapters of

 A House Near Luccoli in full HERE.

Wander through this brief moment in Italian Baroque musical history and let the author and Alessandro Stradella, Donatella, and a whole host of wonderful characters give you the “spirit of Carnevale“.
~  Martin Shone, author of the poetry collections Silence Happens, Being Human, and After the Rain.

Sleep well tonight. She wished she had taken his advice, but she couldn’t stop looking at the explicitly elegant gown hanging on the wardrobe. Nonna would have enjoyed the sight. It was silk and pearl buttoned, curving and billowing white, beribboned in sapphire and trimmed in bronze. Also warm and cold, tight and loose, depending on what the weather and outcome would be. A few hours later she was like a cat that had fallen from an open window, suddenly finding herself where she both longed and was afraid to be, feeling the hardness of pavement and softness of air.

Alessandro insisted she put on her mask again. “And practice on the way.”

“Practice what?”

“Walking like a cat, purring like a cat.”

“Really.” She wasn’t averse to doing so. “I’ve never seen a blue one.”

“You’ll see others turning green.”

Although her face was immovable and pale, she couldn’t hide her pleasure.

“All that’s left is for you to rub against my legs.”

Alessandro was all in white, as if he had absorbed winter from his hat like a boat with one wind-torn sail to frill topped hose and overly flapped boots. He was wimpled in lacy layers to his shoulders, tightly short coated and cavalier, out of fashion but not style, laddered rows of braid with buttons unfastened to the shine of his shirt also showing through gaping slashes on his sleeves. It would have been a perfect disguise but for the distinctiveness of his stride and attitude of his head exaggerated by a duckbill mask, the shine of his lower lip appearing when his expressive, unmistakable voice did.
~ Read full excerpt from A House Near Luccoli

It doesn’t end there!
The gift of a sonnet, ‘stolen’ music, inexpressible secrets,
and an irrepressible spirit
stow away on Donatella’s journey

To A Strange Somewhere Fled (sequel to A House Near Luccoli)

donatellasmallest©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Fluctuations

Fluctuations

But as above that mist’s control
  She rose, and brighter shone …

from Fluctuations by Anne Brontë

January 17, 2021, marks 201 years since Anne Brontë was born in Thornton, West Yorkshire, England, youngest of the six children of Maria Branwell from Penzance and Irish clergyman Patrick Brontë.

My novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit is my love letter to Anne. Not Anne, the ‘less gifted’ sister of Charlotte and Emily … nor the Anne who ‘also wrote two novels’, but Anne herself, courageous, committed, daring and fiercely individual: a writer of remarkable insight, prescience and moral courage whose work can still astonish us today.
~ Deborah Bennison, Bennison Books

2020 was Anne’s bicentennial, celebrations unexpectedly and unfortunately curtailed by Covid-19 restrictions. Of course, honoring Anne can be done at any time by reading her poetry and prose and what others have been inspired to write about her; also, (perhaps, a way that would please her the most) by following her example of good and purposeful living achieved through resilience, faith, honesty, compassion and – invaluable during an isolating pandemic – self-containment, patience, and flexibility.

Anne’s two novels and unfinished ‘Portrait of a girl with a dog’

Anne thought of … a word, more than a word, a philosophy, simple but profound, out of the mouth of someone who spoke simply and succinctly, not unlike Tabby, or, in the old days, Nancy and Sarah Garrs, who sometimes shared wisdom with just a comment on the weather.

Copyright 2017 by DM Denton

“Fluctuations.”

Now it was a title for a poem …

Anne stroked Flossy’s ears as she began to quietly read out loud, “‘Fluctuations. What though the Sun had left my sky—’” Her doe-eyed companion looked up, understanding nothing and everything, wagging his tail and letting it drop limply, whining because he didn’t like it when his mistress was upset. “Shh, shh. It’s all right, sweet pup. ‘To save me from despair the blessed Moon arose on high, and shone serenely there.’”

It was all right. It would be all right. Perhaps not every moment, not when she thought of who she must wait until she died to see again, or how there was less heartache but more frustration in believing she would never feel fully useful in society or even at home unless she accomplished something meaningful. Still, it could be worse if she was without the resolve to make her life fruitful, pursue a well-cultivated mind and well-disposed heart, have the strength to help others be strong, or, especially, the faith to endure and rise above endurance.

“‘I thought such wan and lifeless beams could ne’er my heart repay, for the bright sun’s most transient gleams that cheered me through the day. But as above that mist’s control she rose and brighter shone—’” Flossy looked up at her again. “‘I felt a light upon my soul!’”

Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer. She also valued family and friendship, which, of course, could be one and the same. At times it was stifling back at the parsonage, as though all the windows and doors that held her to being the smallest, quietest, last and least likely to surprise were kept locked by those who loved her for their own conclusions. Anne could never think of home as a prison, but once she flew the nest and realized she had the wherewithal to, if not quite soar, make survivable landings, she knew it was restrictive. She had always suspected being overly protected was as dangerous as being unguarded, like enjoying the rose without noticing its thorns. It wasn’t as though her family was unaware of the world and its ways. Daily and weekly doses of newspapers and magazines initiated lively discussions, mostly between Branwell and Charlotte with Emily grunting, about religion and revolution and parliamentary reform, potato famine and, closer to home, the plight of the wool laborers and sick in their father’s parish.

Anne was afraid responding to political, social, and moral issues through the amusement of fantasy was more about outwitting these realities than addressing them. She even felt some shame at having gone along with the juvenilia that made believe the world was at her fingertips, its maneuverings entertaining, romantic, and escapist, although she could almost forgive the child she was then. Halfway through her twenties, having lived most of the last four years away from her family, she was finally fully-fledged, the nature she was born with at last standing up for itself, wanting its voice to be heard, with the courage to admit she was meant to wear truths not masks.

In or away from Haworth, the best companionship was often with herself alone: the best being the reflection that wouldn’t falsely flatter for the sake of avoiding hard feelings, wasn’t eager to congratulate in order to keep her friendship, and didn’t encourage self-pity because it was wanted in return. Anne had long since decided to be honest with herself even when it meant facing a harsh reality, like the prospect of never marrying and having children. Whatever God’s will, she hoped a few of the schemes in her head, humble and limited as they were, might come to something. She could hear Emily guffawing. Why shouldn’t they? You worry too much. Yes, she did, a correction that was one of the most difficult to make if she thought she must choose between passion and dispassion.

Excerpt from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

Illustration (from Without the Veil Between) by DM Denton

Fluctuations

What though the Sun had left my sky;
  To save me from despair
The blessed Moon arose on high,
  And shone serenely there.

I watched her, with a tearful gaze,
  Rise slowly o’er the hill,
While through the dim horizon’s haze
  Her light gleamed faint and chill.

I thought such wan and lifeless beams
  Could ne’er my heart repay,
For the bright sun’s most transient gleams
  That cheered me through the day:

But as above that mist’s control
  She rose, and brighter shone,
I felt her light upon my soul;
  But nowthat light is gone!

Thick vapours snatched her from my sight,
  And I was darkling left,
All in the cold and gloomy night,
  Of light and hope bereft:

Until, methought, a little star
  Shone forth with trembling ray,
To cheer me with its light afar
  But that, too, passed away.

Anon, an earthly meteor blazed
  The gloomy darkness through;
I smiled, yet trembled while I gazed
  But that soon vanished too!

And darker, drearier fell the night
  Upon my spirit then;
But what is that faint struggling light?
  Is it the Moon again?

Kind Heaven! increase that silvery gleam,
  And bid these clouds depart,
And let her soft celestial beam
  Restore my fainting heart!

~Acton Bell (Anne Brontë)

Happy birthday, dearest Anne!

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Farther On My Road Today

On this New Year’s Day 2021, I was reminder by the first two stanzas of this poem by Christina Rossetti (Old and New Year Ditties) of why I was and continue to be compelled to write my current work-in-progress novel about her, and how in sync I am with her melancholic hope and sensibilities:

New Year met me somewhat sad:
Old Year leaves me tired,
Stripped of favourite things I had
Baulked of much desired:
Yet farther on my road to-day
God willing, farther on my way.

New Year coming on apace
What have you to give me?
Bring you scathe, or bring you grace,
Face me with an honest face;
You shall not deceive me:
Be it good or ill, be it what you will,
It needs shall help me on my road,
My rugged way to heaven, please God.

Christina Rossetti and her Mother Frances Rossetti, 7th October 1863, by Charles Dodgson (AKA Lewis Carroll)

Here is the rest of the poem, no doubt more overtly religious than I am, but full of rich spiritual contemplation I cannot help but relate to:

Watch with me, men, women, and children dear,
You whom I love, for whom I hope and fear,
Watch with me this last vigil of the year.
Some hug their business, some their pleasure-scheme;
Some seize the vacant hour to sleep or dream;
Heart locked in heart some kneel and watch apart.

Watch with me blessed spirits, who delight
All through the holy night to walk in white,
Or take your ease after the long-drawn fight.
I know not if they watch with me: I know
They count this eve of resurrection slow,
And cry, ‘How long?’ with urgent utterance strong.

Watch with me Jesus, in my loneliness:
Though others say me nay, yet say Thou yes;
Though others pass me by, stop Thou to bless.
Yea, Thou dost stop with me this vigil night;
To-night of pain, to-morrow of delight:
I, Love, am Thine; Thou, Lord my God, art mine.

Passing away, saith the World, passing away:
Chances, beauty and youth sapped day by day:
Thy life never continueth in one stay.
Is the eye waxen dim, is the dark hair changing to grey
That hath won neither laurel nor bay?
I shall clothe myself in Spring and bud in May:
Thou, root-stricken, shalt not rebuild thy decay
On my bosom for aye.
Then I answered: Yea.

Passing away, saith my Soul, passing away:
With its burden of fear and hope, of labour and play;
Hearken what the past doth witness and say:
Rust in thy gold, a moth is in thine array,
A canker is in thy bud, thy leaf must decay.
At midnight, at cockcrow, at morning, one certain day
Lo, the Bridegroom shall come and shall not delay:
Watch thou and pray.
Then I answered: Yea.

Passing away, saith my God, passing away:
Winter passeth after the long delay:
New grapes on the vine, new figs on the tender spray,
Turtle calleth turtle in Heaven’s May.
Though I tarry wait for Me, trust Me, watch and pray:
Arise, come away, night is past and lo it is day,
My love, My sister, My spouse, thou shalt hear Me say.
Then I answered: Yea.

For me, this piece – Reminiscence – by Chopin fits the mood and reflection of Christina’s poem

Wishing you health, fulfillment,
love, and peace
for 2021 and beyond.

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.

Music on Christmas Morning (Revisited Once Again)

Music on Christmas Morning (Revisited Once Again)

With a guest appearance and piano performance by Brontë aficionado Mick Armitage

Anne knew life couldn’t fail her as long as she acknowledged the blessings of animals and nature, music and prayer.
from Without the Veil Between

Continue reading

Farewell to thee! but not farewell

Farewell
by Anne Brontë

Farewell to thee! but not farewell
To all my fondest thoughts of thee:
Within my heart they still shall dwell;
And they shall cheer and comfort me.
O, beautiful, and full of grace!
If thou hadst never met mine eye,
I had not dreamed a living face
Could fancied charms so far outvie.

If I may ne’er behold again
That form and face so dear to me,
Nor hear thy voice, still would I fain
Preserve, for aye, their memory.

That voice, the magic of whose tone
Can wake an echo in my breast,
Creating feelings that, alone,
Can make my tranced spirit blest.

That laughing eye, whose sunny beam
My memory would not cherish less; —
And oh, that smile! whose joyous gleam
Nor mortal language can express.

Adieu, but let me cherish, still,
The hope with which I cannot part.
Contempt may wound, and coldness chill,
But still it lingers in my heart.

And who can tell but Heaven, at last,
May answer all my thousand prayers,
And bid the future pay the past
With joy for anguish, smiles for tears?

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between,Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

December 19, 1848 was a tragic day at the Brontë Parsonage, Haworth, West Yorkshire, England, for Anne, Charlotte, and their father, Patrick.

Bronte Parsonage Illustration.jpg adjusted

Illustration by DM Denton from Without the Veil Between, Anne Bronte: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

Only a few months after brother Branwell passed from their lives, beloved sister Emily followed him. One can only imagine the grief of losing two siblings and children so soon one after the other – not the first time this had happened for the Brontë family and not made easier by being just before Christmas, a time when they usually found themselves come together again after being away from home.

I wrote about the closeness (“like twins … inseparable companions, and in the very closest sympathy, which never had any interruption” ~ Ellen Nussey) of Anne and Emily Brontë in a previous post: The Very Closest Sympathy.

Writing the scenes of Emily’s death in my novel Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit happened to correspond to a time in 2017 when I was grieving the loss of my beloved Gabey-kitty (his brother Darcy passed a few months later).

‘When we are harassed by sorrows or anxieties, or long oppressed by any powerful feelings which we must keep to ourselves, for which we can obtain and seek no sympathy from any living creature, and which yet we cannot, or will not wholly crush, we often naturally seek relief in poetry . . .’
~ Anne Brontë, Agnes Grey

Or, in my case, prose …

“‘Powerful’. ‘Interesting’. ‘Coarse’. ‘Brutal’. ‘Morbid’. Do we write with any such adjectives in mind?” Anne had been reading through the reviews of Tenant she had collected, portions aloud to Emily, especially those that might stir any fight left in her. “Or go through the tormenting process of writing a novel for ‘reveling in scenes of debauchery’?”

Emily was quiet lying sideways on the sofa in the parlor. Since Anne had repositioned the pillow borrowed from one or other of their beds, Emily’s head had slipped to bow against her frail neck. Her torso was curled so her length was contracted, no definition to her arms or bosom within the sleeves and bodice of her dress, no movement under its skirt since Anne had lifted her sister’s skeletal legs up more than an hour before.

Anne wondered if Emily was still pulled by the brutishness and beauty of the moors and the similar punishment and reward of writing. Did a look out a window or opening of a door remind her of what she was missing, and new Gondal rascals or Heathcliffs or Catherines find her imagination receptive? Anne longed for one more conversation with her, whether playful or intense, one more chance to agree, argue and confirm they were good for each other’s inspiration, intellects and souls. Anne ached for one more meeting with the Emily who was wiry but robust, strong like a man and simple like a child, her head full of logic and fantastic stories at the same time, her choices uncompromising, as were her passions. If only Emily’s life could return to being routine and yet so exceptional, filled with writing brilliantly while she was bread making or sewing or everyone else was asleep, making music like a perfect lady and rambling the Pennine way like a free and easy lad.

Instead, Anne had to helplessly watch as Emily continued to disappear through those December days and nights. On that Monday evening, a week before Christmas, her stillness, half-open eyes and mouth, and leaning towards resignation indicated there was only one way she would be released from consumption’s captivity.

~ from Without the Veil Between, Anne Brontë: A Fine and Subtle Spirit

Anne and Emily from a painting by their brother, Branwell

I know that ghosts have wandered on earth. Be with me always—take any form—drive me mad!
~ from Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë

©Artwork and writing, unless otherwise indicated, are the property of Diane M Denton. Please request permission to reproduce or post elsewhere with a link back to bardessdmdenton. Thank you.